PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS

Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West

OKC: 60-22, one seed in the West

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Memphis: Beat the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2

OKC: Beat the Houston Rockets 4-2

SEASON SERIES

Grizzlies took two of the three meetings.

KEY INJURIES

Russell Westbrook is out for the playoffs after undergoing surgery for a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Memphis: Offense 109.7 (2nd in the postseason), Defense 104.9 (11th in the postseason)

OKC: Offense 109.2 (3rd in the postseason), Defense 101.9 (8th in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

The Thunder’s ability to get consistent scoring from players not named Kevin Durant: With the loss of Russell Westbrook at this late stage of the season, OKC is forced to adjust on the fly without their most explosive player, and the one who led the team in field goal attempts over the course of the season. Replacing what Westbrook gave the Thunder will be a tall task against a solid Grizzlies team that’s more than capable of locking down defensively at times, so the likes of Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson will need to provide reliable production from the guard spots for the Thunder to advance.

The continued brilliance of Mike Conley: The Grizzlies’ point guard has played as well as anyone in this postseason, and carved up the Clippers with averages of 17.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game that were all better than his regular season averages. Conley was especially great in the closeout Game 6, finishing with 23 points on seven shots, after getting to the free throw line for a whopping 17 attempts.

There’s a reason that the Grizzlies offense, which was below average during the regular season, came to life against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Conley’s ability to have high assist, low turnover games has been key in his team’s surge on that end of the floor, and his ability to feed Zach Randolph in the post with perfectly-placed passes has helped his big man dominate for stretches inside.

Memphis is built on defense, certainly. But Conley is the key to bringing their offense to a respectable level that can actually make the Grizzlies a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins: These two didn’t have a great first round series against the Rockets, but the matchups are much more favorable in the second round against a Grizzlies team that relies heavily on its two bigs inside. Oklahoma City may be uniquely qualified to slow the Memphis frontcourt attack with both Ibaka and Perkins, as well as with Nick Collison off the bench.

OUTLOOK

The burden will be on Durant to carry the Thunder offensively in this series, and he’s more than capable of doing so. The problem is that Memphis has a strong wing defender in Tony Allen who can at least make Durant work for his points, and if the Grizzlies can force Durant into low shooting percentage games, while containing the rest of of the Thunder’s role players, it could be trouble for Oklahoma City.

The Grizzlies’ ability to play good team defense, along with their improved offense we’ve witnessed so far this postseason, should be enough to get them into the Conference finals.

PREDICTION

Grizzlies in six.

Report: Wizards look uninterested in trading Otto Porter for cap flexibility, future assets

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said, “We will never, ever tank.” Washington also put out word it wasn’t looking to trade Otto Porter.

As much as all that sounded like lip service, it appears the Wizards are also conveying similar messages to potential trade partners.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

the Wizards have shown little appetite for dealing Otto Porter anywhere for a return heavy on future assets and cap flexibility, sources say

John Wall‘s massive contract looked barely movable even before he underwent season-ending surgery. Washington seems unwilling to take a step back by trading star Bradley Beal.

So, that leaves unloading Porter – who’s earning $26,011,913 this year and due $55,739,815 over the next two seasons – as the obvious way to create cap flexibility and accumulate future assets. If the Wizards are unwilling to do that, it speaks volumes to their plan.

They don’t want to rebuild. They want to win now. Porter can help them do that.

In many ways, it’s noble Washington is so committed to winning, even at great expense. That’s generally what we want from teams. We don’t want them to give up or cut costs just because they’re a couple games out of playoff position midway through the season.

But the Wizards’ spending has been… uneven. Leonsis greenlit a payroll well into the luxury tax and is apparently willing to keep Porter, which likely keeps that payroll high. Yet, Washington is also holding as many roster spots vacant as allowed, offering small savings rather than adding depth amid multiple injuries.

Maybe the Wizards just don’t believe they could sign minimum-salary players who’d actually help. But insurance never hurts on the court.

So, Washington is left looking content holding its few major contracts, nickeling-and-diming down the roster, winning a barely moderate amount and not gaining better position for the future. I’m unconvinced that’s a worthy vision, but if that’s what the Wizards want, keeping Porter helps stay that course.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart fined $35k for charging at DeAndre’ Bembry (video)

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Marcus Smart‘s jawing with DeAndre Bembry reached the point several people tried to restrain the Celtics guard.

And Smart still fought through them to charge at Bembry.

That determination for a confrontation will cost Smart.

NBA release:

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been fined $35,000 for aggressively pursuing an opponent in an attempt to escalate a physical altercation and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, which took place after Smart was assessed his second technical foul and was ejected, occurred with 7:35 remaining in the third quarter of the Celtics’ 113-105 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 19

Smart was seemingly near the line between this fine and a suspension. He’s fortunate to land on the side he did.

James Harden’s 19-game 30-point streak surpassed by only Wilt Chamberlain

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On Feb. 24, 1962, the Celtics held Wilt Chamberlain to just 26 points, ending his streak of 30-point games at 65. The next day, he score 67 to start a 31-game streak of 30-point games.

Chamberlain was on a different level. He also had 25- and 20-game streaks of 30-point games. His numbers just warp so many statistical achievements.

Otherwise, James Harden would get even more credit for his scoring binge. The Rockets star has scored 30 points in 19 straight games, the longest such non-Chamberlain streak of all-time.

Here are the longest 30-point-game streaks in NBA history:

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Harden will attempt to continue his run against the 76ers tonight.

He has been clearing a much higher bar lately. In his last three games, Harden has scored 57, 58 and 48 points.

So, maybe “just” 30 points will be easy. But definitely not as easy as Chamberlain made it look.

Myles Turner with monstrous block of Marvin Williams dunk (video)

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Pacers center Myles Turner leads the NBA with 2.8 blocks per game.

Few were better than this one of Marvin Williams in Indiana’s win over the Hornets last night.

Though Williams was slightly losing control of the ball before Turner got to it, the Charlotte forward still went up for a big dunk. But that wasn’t happening on Turner’s watch.